Get the lowdown on basic punches, gear, and shadowboxing.Read article
A lot has happened in John Cena’s career since the last time he graced the cover of M&F in 2004. He has gone on to become the undisputed face of the WWE and is an especially huge hit with kids. He has granted over 300 wishes for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, making him the biggest wish granter in the history of the foundation. As a 10-time WWE Champion, he is one of the most successful names in pro wrestling history. His feud with The Rock, however, has forced him to stand and face real criticism from his haters; The Rock has called out Cena for his bright colored shirts and sweatbands, for embodying something only kids could enjoy. The Rock vs. John Cena is as much about two great WWE superstars putting on a phenomenal match as it is about the fans who watch. There won’t be anyone watching on Sunday who doesn’t feel strongly about the outcome of the main event one way or another, and the match promises to be as epic and memorable as last year’s main event between the two stars.
The man with his finger on the switch has selected the Monte Carlo this morning, but like a businessman choosing his necktie for the day, he could have taken either a ’62 or ’63 Impala convertible, a ’64 Impala SS or a ’71 Chevy Blazer, low-riders all.
To paraphrase an old joke, Cena rolls like that because he can, now that he rates as a star attraction for World Wrestling Entertainment, the wildly successful sports entertainment circus ring-led by Vince McMahon. Making the grade requires a gimmick, usually one that involves taking some exaggerated physical or cultural attribute and exaggerating it further. Cena’s pimped-out rides form part of the unlikeliest shtick under the WWE big top: a rapping wrestler of Italian descent who earned his cred growing up on the “mean streets” of West Newbury, Massachusetts, a hamlet with manicured lawns and houses that look as if they were built from ginger- bread, not bricks and mortar. The hip-hop nation hasn’t a more remote outpost, but back in the day, that’s exactly where Cena decided to stake his claim to fame in the rhyming game.
“One of the reasons I got into weights was that every day I was threatened with getting my ass kicked because I listened to rap music,” says the SmackDown! star. “It’s a small, predominantly white town, and that was my style, and it wasn’t anyone else’s style, so I got sand kicked in my face, so to speak.”
Cena’s other passion was football, a sport he played throughout high school and college and well enough to earn All-American honors during his senior year at Springfield College. He realized early on that adding some body armor would make him a harder hitter on the gridiron. When Cena was 13, his dad presented him with a home workout setup, but in a year he had outgrown it, prompting him to set foot inside Hard Nock’s Gym in nearby Amesbury, Massachusetts.
It’s there that Cena has insisted on returning for today’s photo shoot. Appropriate choice: For decades, the gym’s proprietor, former bodybuilder David Nock, has papered many of the walls with yellowing articles from past issues of MUSCLE & FITNESS and FLEX magazines. The oldest running gym in New England, Nock’s rocks around the clock; in fact, this photo shoot marks its first closure, even for few hours, since the United States went to war…in Vietnam. It’s the kind of place that an impressionable young man with big dreams can enter and, through the alchemy of iron, sweat and hormones, transform himself into a major badass by the time senior year rolls around.
Take Cena—Nock knew the instant they met that his genetics and discipline, once mixed with Hard Nock’s “controlled insanity” approach to bodybuilding, would explode with the inevitability of a lit fuse. Sure enough, Cena devoured the master’s offerings with the insatiable appetite of a pit bull unleashed inside a Steak n Shake.
One particular incident is branded in Nock’s memory.
“I’m sittin’ at home one Saturday night, and the phone rings at 10 o’clock,” Nock recalls. “He goes, ‘Dave, this is John. I just put a hole in the wall down here.’ I said, ‘Well, how’s that, John?’ He said, ‘You know that squat workout you gave me? Well, I didn’t quite get it done. I got upset, and I drove my fist through the wall and knocked all the plaster out.’ I said, ‘Fine, John. Just come down tomorrow and get it fixed.’ He was just a wicked intense kid. We had some real battles down here.”
Jonesing for sunshine and ready for full immersion in the bodybuilding lifestyle, Cena moved out to Southern California virtually upon being handed his college diploma. From 2000 to early 2002, he worked behind the counter at Gold’s Gym in Venice, California, every bodybuilder’s intersection between stardom and oblivion. There, scenes he had observed freeze-framed at Hard Nock’s came alive before him every day. He also started studying at a Southern California wrestling school. Ironically, he would succeed where many of the bodybuilders he had idolized and then seen firsthand at Gold’s had failed miserably.
At wrestling school, his rhyming skills didn’t distinguish Cena. After all, young Caucasian males have appropriated black culture for commercial gain since Elvis Presley strolled into Sun Studios back in 1954. The results have ranged from inspired (Eminem) to dumb (Kid Rock) to laughable (Vanilla Ice), and where Cena falls on that continuum soon will be apparent. Two years in the making, his first CD, tentatively titled Underground, is finished and due out at summer’s end as a joint Columbia/WWE release.
Yet while his skill on the mic didn’t propel Cena into the WWE, it would put him over the top. WWE talent endures a lot of downtime between matches, and one day, an executive overheard Cena freestyling back- stage between shows. The rest, as they say, is history. “It’s good, because it’s allowing me to be me,” Cena says of being recast from his former persona, The ProtoType. “Before [the WWE was] marketing me as this clean-cut kid from small-town America, and I am the kid from small-town America, but I’m the kid who would go to the mall in a tricked-out Nova.”
The accoutrements of hip-hop are on full display onstage and at this photo shoot: ’92 Reebok joints, sweatbands, throwback jerseys. (Today, it’s vintage Celtics — the unmistakable “00” worn by Hall of Fame center Robert Parish.) “I base a lot of what our company is capable of on what hip-hop has done,” he says when asked to explain his merging of street hustle and wrestling, given that blacks form a relatively small percentage of the WWE fan base. “Hip-hop came from nuthin’, and they said it was the next disco, and then it really blew up. Now, not only do you see recording artists making a helluva lot of money on their records, but they’re getting [main- stream] endorsement deals and TV shows. I believe that can happen with wrestling as well.”
Cena may be a baller now, but he hasn’t forgotten from whence he came. He insisted that this shoot be done at Hard Nock’s so that David Nock would receive his due props, and the atmosphere inside, filled with barking dogs and crying babies, suggests a family reunion.
In a roundabout way, Cena can thank Nock and bodybuilding for his ease in the ring. The latter tells a story from when Cena, then 18, was preparing for his first bodybuilding contest, a backwater show held in Newburyport, Mass. Two weeks out, stage fright suddenly gripped the teen. Nock ordered him down to a nearby traffic circle in his posing trunks on a Sunday morning, so he could go through his routine as parishioners made their way to church.
“The women loved it, and the guys wanted to give him the finger,” says Nock, laughing at the memory. “But he’s loved getting up onstage ever since.”